Donor & implementer perspectives

In final section of the December 2021 meeting of the Joint Coordination Mechanism, donors and implementers of media support programmes in Lebanon exchanged perspectives on effective practice.

As this section of the meeting was held using the Chatham House rule speakers the identities of speakers are not included.

Involvement of other agencies, networks and civil society in the design, planning and assessment

One donor representative explained that their organisation works in specific countries through joint efforts between their policy team, contacts from their networks, and civil society. These joint efforts help the organisation assess where to place their efforts, which also guides policy priorities.

“There are certain expertise that can be transferred, but we're also trying to more and more look at how we can create a sustainable environment in the region and expertise in the region. In terms of media expertise, we realised that we were lacking this expertise of what media needed." - Donor representative

Lack of formal assessment process

Another donor pointed out that their organisation does not have a formal assessment process and instead . A common first step is a calls for proposals asking for a statement of interest as a contribution to the organisation. With this, donor organisations want to encourage small NGOs without the capacity to provide a full package of support, to apply.

Complex application processes and complicated programme implementation system

Some donor organisations at the meeting recognised they have complex application processes and programme implementation systems.

One donor representative highlighted that, although the whole process is very complicated, an initial statement of interest is used to select the most promising proposals and so that they can be guided through the full application process. After this, a panel is convened with relevant stakeholders, including members from the respective embassy in which the project will take place, and sometimes partners of the organisation. Finally, a negotiation is held with local partners to ensure that the recommendations made by the panel upon the project presentation are indeed addressed. However, the donor pointed out that this approach has not been implemented in Lebanon.

“In the context of Lebanon, specifically, we do rely on our post[ed] colleagues [at the country's embassy] who have an active presence, they do try to help us navigate the space of who’s doing what.” - Donor organisation representative

A practitioner representative also spoke on the complicated systems of application by stating that the guidelines are often inaccessible to those wishing to grants.

A Lebanese media support organisation representative explained their calls for proposals process is very inclusive of practitioner voices and needs. They explained how media organisations that have benefited from their support are shaping and influencing the public debate about ending impunity in Lebanon, which is imperative in the transition to democracy in the country.

From a "top-down" to a "balanced approach"

A representative of a donor organisation explained how they were moving away from top-down approach - which they admitted were designed to fit the donor’s needs and desires - towards a more “balanced” approach where calls for proposals are more aware of the needs of media organisations working on the ground.

The donor representative also expressed how holding extensive consultations helps their organisation understand needs instead of seeking to implement a checklist that practitioners must sometimes go out of their way to accomplish even if it isn’t addressing many of their immediate needs.

“Media was just part of the overall work on civil society and we would approach human rights issues or women empowerment and media in the exact same way. Worse, even maybe, media was also seen as a tool to actually address some of our own political priorities. We realised that we were running a lot of programmes focusing on grants for women empowerment agendas that were dictating basically the agenda also for media in the region.” - Donor organisation representative

A practitioner representative agreed that a top-down approach is deeply problematic. They pointed out the alternative - engaging with implementing organisations and considering their assessments - is more effective as it enables them to build on their ongoing projects.

Examples of bottom-up and local-led approaches mentioned during the meeting included:

  • The design and launch of the Media Recovery fund in 2020

  • Maharat Foundation working to build up a national approach for election observation based on their extensive experience of media monitoring and then seek funding for this approach.

  • Samir Kassir Foundation, based on audience data, designing a primetime election television show and successfully approaching donors for support.

“I very much hear the statement that local organisations are looking for an equal partnership with with their international counterparts. And I think that extends to the donor community as well.” - Michael Randall

From short-term relationships to long-term support

A practitioner representative highlighted that donors are also oftentimes prioritising short-term relationships with practitioners while at the same time have high expections. This attitude means that many projects are not as impactful as they could be as they try to do too many different thing and fail to address fundamental issues. Thus, the practitioner representative expressed hope that discussions with the Joint Coordination Mechanism will inspire donors to be more “progressive” and interested in long-term development.

A Lebanese media support organisation explained that although grants are important, donors and implementers should focus on building longer term relationships that result is more sustainable support. Taking a longer-term approach allows small media organisations to flourish and develop strategies to grow their projects.

Decentralisation and empowering local media

“We know that Lebanon has a heavy history of media capture and very centralised media. So going into the region, working with the local community and empowering them to have a look at local media is very important to the diversity of voices in Lebanon.” Lebanese media support organisation representative

Frustration with the current situation

National authorities do not seem to be anywhere close to engaging in conversations about media development initiatives.

“We are not able to access any information regarding the reform. We also question if they are really doing something to rebuild Beirut and to also ensure justice after the Beirut blast, so there is a lot of frustration. Sometimes we would like to engage with them in a conversation, but most of the time we are really frustrated. We don't really have hope in the current political class.” - Lebanese media support organisation representative

Why was coordination successful in this case?

Reflecting on the 16 months of the Joint Coordination Mechanism Lebanese media support organisations said that:

The Beirut blast crisis improved the accessibility of implementers to grants and international funding and resulted in increased willingness from international donors to organise their efforts.

The coordination effort prompted the inclusion of the needs of implementers that would have otherwise been neglected if the situation had been responded to more chaotically.

The sympathy and willingness to engage by international donors helped make the coordination effort successful but also has helped maintain and improve friendly relationships implementers such that Samir Kassir Foundation to Maharat and SMEX who share values and seek common similar goals.

The availability of adequate funding meant that local organisations were not forced spend their energies to competeing over insiificient funds.

Donors' still have some way to go to ensure that implementers are given the room to adjust to changing situations. However, in the case where funding was flexible, this enabled collaboration between local actors and bridges to be built among projects funded by different organisations.

Commitment to good local coordination regardless of international funding.

Meeting Conclusions

Information-sharing among the donor community is invaluable, and because the situation in Lebanon is so unique, it should be more prioritised.

The relationship between donors and beneficiaries should be more of a long-term partnership.

Although it is understandable that donors are rigid in termsof not having to deal with practitioners asking for funds on an ad-hoc basis, more flexibility is needed, as well as a constant flow of communication among donors and practitioners.

“I think we want the learning from this to be translated into multiple contexts on coordination. [...] I think there’s a lot of groundwork to be done here. We can’t just assume everything would work swimmingly.” - Donor organisation representative

Key words mentioned throughout the discussion: trust, cooperation, coordination, partnership, long-term support, developing local and regional expertise.

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